The new film — actually a digital video production — by local filmmaker Chris Bower is being presented for one showing only this Thursday night at 10 at the Fine Arts. I won’t say that Brother Cellophane is a good film; it isn’t. It’s far too derivative to be genuinely good.
Bower made his film under the very obvious influence of Harmony Korine’s Gummo — not a movie I would care to see exerting an influence on much of anything, apart from influencing a movement to prevent Korine from making more films. Gummo (yes, it’s actually named for the fifth Marx Brother, even though there seems to be no connection) gets my vote for inclusion in the top five most repellent films ever made. It is, I suppose, essential viewing for anyone who enjoys cat mutilations and watching men you’d pay to put their shirts back on drink beer and arm-wrestle. Presumably, and hopefully, that’s a very select audience.
Blessedly, Bower seems not to have wanted to outdo — or even equal — Gummo in the loathsomeness department; he appears to be more taken with its non-narrative structure and the seemingly improvised dialogue. Now, I’m not all that hot for movies about characters I could see in line at the DMV, and whom, in the real world, I’d go blocks out of my way to avoid. As a result, I’m not the best possible audience for Bower’s film. However, it’s an invariably interesting piece of work that shows a good command of filmmaking basics and a knack for finding nicely evocative locations.
The version I saw could certainly stand some serious editing. It’s overlong and most of the performances could be bettered by being pruned. And as with Gummo, there really isn’t a story so much as there’s a series of events — not really tied together — involving different groups of characters, most of whom aren’t even marginally sympathetic, and none of whom are likable.
However, there actually is a point to Brother Cellophane. It paints a vivid and very uncomfortable picture of where much of the post-9/11 jingoism has led and could lead. The film takes place in very much of a post-9/11 world, with all-pervasive American flags, anti-Arab sentiments, Bin Laden graffiti, etc. Distilled and concentrated in Bowers’ film, this ethnocentric jingoism transforms the world we know into a kind of surreal nightmare. By contrasting this with the more overt bigotry of a white-supremacist group, Bowers gets to the very core of racism in all its horror — whether wearing the mask of patriotism, or the hood of the Klansman. It’s not pretty. It’s not comfortable. But it is thought provoking. Has the world we inhabit turned into a living nightmare? So the evidence on the screen suggests.
If Bowers had stuck to this — and removed some of the less successful personal-relationship moments and a few scenes that seem to exist for purely self-indulgent reasons — he might have had a really fine film. Instead, he’s got an uncomfortable, interesting one. It’s certainly worth a look as an example of the burgeoning local filmmaking scene, even if I can’t say Brother Cellophane is wholly successful. Be warned, though: The film contains almost nonstop profanity, some nudity and drug use, and excessive drinking.